We Youth Get Our Election News Wherever We Can

Pacific News Service, “Youth Commentary”,  Published February 3, 2004

Editor’s Note: A new poll shows young people are more likely to get their election coverage from “Saturday Night Live” than nightly newscasts. That’s great, according to the 22-year-old writer, who says youth know they must search media far and wide to learn political truths in America today.

The primaries are in full swing. So far, Kerry is smiling, Dean is shooting Red Bull in his veins to prepare for next week and Lieberman has probably resigned himself to checking IDs at movie theaters for the rest of his political career. It’s all very exciting. But there’s one story that shouldn’t go unmentioned in all the hoopla.

The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press conducted a survey of young people to see where they’re getting their election news. It turns out that only 23 percent get their updates from the nightly news, down from 39 percent in 2000. But here’s the good news: 21 percent of young people ages 18 to 29 cited comedy shows like “Saturday Night Live” and Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” as their primary sources for campaign news. Twenty-one percent! That’s, like, one in five 18 to 29-year-olds. I don’t have my numbers in front of me, but I think that’s a bigger percentage of young people than the ones who actually vote.

Needless to say, everyone is upset. Tom Brokaw was so busy denying the relevance of the study he almost missed the teleprompt reminder to swap out his bionic hip. And all over the TV, experts have been invited to talk about “what to do with our stupid kids.” The only people who are happy about the study are the ones working at MTV news, who have done a lot recently to be taken more seriously.

I think people are taking this study the wrong way. It doesn’t mean young people are stupid. It doesn’t mean we don’t care about politics. What it means — and this is a good thing — is that we’re savvy enough to seek alternate news sources. We’re the first generation to grow up with cable, and in the age of too much information we’re one step behind the “microchip in your earlobe” generation. We know what’s what. And we know that the local news isn’t good for much more than sports scores and the five-day weather forecast. We also know that CNN is owned by the same people who own Batman and Eminem, so it’s just entertainment. And boring. At least SNL is funny.

That TV news people are outraged about this whole thing just highlights the fact that they’re out of touch. Even the politicians know how to get at young voters. Gov. Schwarzenegger announced his candidacy on Jay Leno. John Edwards announced his on Jon Stewart’s show. Al Sharpton hosted “Saturday Night Live.”

On my local newscast, the night before the New Hampshire primary, one correspondent remarked, “Somebody’s gonna get voted off this island tomorrow.” The anchor back in the studio responded, “Ha ha — ‘Survivor.’ Thanks, Hank.” How do you take that seriously? You don’t.

I’m not saying that young people should only watch comedy shows to get accurate election coverage. But if young people are realizing they’re not getting the information that they should be from the TV news, that’s encouraging. People I know are turning to a number of alternate news outlets. The Internet is an obvious source for independent coverage. But there are others.

The other day, an 18-year-old with gold teeth was telling me about a story he read on Dick Cheney in The Socialist Worker. He said somebody had given him the paper at his community college, and even though he was skeptical, he read it. He told me, “I don’t believe most of the stuff in there. But I read everything I get my hands on. That way, at least SOME of it will be true.”